“On Veterans Day, America pauses to honor every service member who has ever worn one of our Nation’s uniforms. Each time our country has come under attack, they have risen in her defense. Each time our freedoms have come under assault, they have responded with resolve. Through the generations, their courage and sacrifice have allowed our Republic to flourish. And today, a Nation acknowledges its profound debt of gratitude to the patriots who have kept it whole.
As we pay tribute to our veterans, we are mindful that no ceremony or parade can fully repay that debt. We remember that our obligations endure long after the battle ends, and we make it our mission to give them the respect and care they have earned. “
These two paragraphs are taken directly from the 2013 Veterans Day Presidential Proclamation.
But getting Veterans the care they deserve is not always easy. The wounds of war can go far beyond what meets the eye. From mental health issues to pain and illness that persist long after they’ve left the battlefield, veterans face a multitude of health troubles either unique to their service or more frequent among them than the general population.
“Folks returning from combat have a constellation of health concerns, including physical issues, psychological issues and psychosocial issues concerning things like work and family,” said Dr. Stephen Hunt, national director of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Post Deployment Integrative Care Initiative.
Some of the most common physical complaints of returning soldiers cannot be classified into a single disorder. They include nonspecific symptoms such as fatigue, pain and cognitive disturbances such as memory and concentration problems.
Here are seven of the most commonly seen health conditions confronting veterans:
Musculoskeletal injuries and pain
Just over half of all veterans’ post-deployment health visits address lingering pain in their backs, necks, knees or shoulders. According to a study in the Journal of Pain, about 100,000 veterans of the Gulf War nearly 20 years ago have reported chronic muscle pain.
Mental health issues
While post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among soldiers has been well publicized, other mental woes can also result from the trauma of war. A study in the journal Archives of General Psychiatry [now JAMA Psychiatry] found that one in 10 Iraq war vets develop serious mental problems, including violent behavior, depression and alcohol abuse. The study found that PTSD or depression seriously impaired daily functioning in 8.5 – 14% of these vets. Disabling on its own, PTSD is also linked to the development of physical illnesses for veterans as years pass. Researchers from Walter Reed Army Medical Center reported that 54% of veterans with PTSD also had sleep apnea, compared with 20%of PTSD patients in the general population. PTSD in vets is also associated with a greater risk of developing dementia.
Research by the American Heart Association found that exposure to nerve agents such as sarin – which can trigger convulsions and death on the battlefield – may cause long-term heart damage in Gulf War veterans. The damage can include an enlarged left ventricle, heart rhythm abnormalities or a reduction in the pumping strength of the heart.
Although all military personnel are given routine vaccinations before deployment, veterans suffer disproportionately from certain infections that civilians almost never experience. They include bacterial infections such as brucellosis, which may persist for years; campylobacter jejuni, which causes abdominal pain, fever and diarrhea; and Coxiella burnetii, which in chronic cases can inflame the heart.
Leishmaniasis, a parasitic disease caused by the bite of a sand fly native to the Middle East, is a particularly brutal condition veterans experience. Those infected suffer weight loss, fevers, headaches, muscle pain and weakness, anemia, and enlargement of the spleen and liver. It can be fatal if untreated, according to the VA..
TBI, often brought on by a blow or jolt to the head, disrupts brain function and has been called the signature wound of the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the National Academy of Sciences. Blast exposures and other combat-related activities put service members at greater risk for sustaining a TBI compared to their civilian counterparts, according to the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center.
Common effects of TBIs include cognitive issues such as shorter attention span, language disabilities, and an inability to process information. Vets can also suffer from lack of motivation, irritability, anxiety and depression, headaches, memory loss and PTSD.
However, you choose to mark Veteran’s Day 2013, please remember the sacrifices made by all of our vets and be mindful of the long-term health problems they face. Ladies and Gentleman of the military, we thank you for your service.